The recent meeting between the leaders of Russia and Turkey in Moscow demonstrated that both sides are determined not to do anything that could jeopardize their bilateral relations, which they both see as very beneficial, said Galip Dalay, a visitor academic at the University of Oxford Department of Politics and International Relations, non-resident fellow at Brookings Institution Doha Centre and research director at Al Sharq Forum, in an interview with valdaiclub.com on Friday.
The Putin-Erdogan meeting, held in Moscow on January 23, was focused on Syria, where a new reality on the ground is emerging following the announced withdrawal of US troops. According to Dalay, the discussion of the “safe zones” along the Syria-Turkey border is going to become a new factor of the intra-Syrian settlement. With all actors in Syria having different goals and visions, this discussion is likely to become a process, not a deal, he believes.
“There is going to be a new process between Turkey and the US, which is likely to include some other actors, like France,” Dalay said. “But if it turns into a process rather than a deal, the question for Turkey will be how to manage both sides at the same time: the Astana partners on the one hand and most of its western partners on the other hand, who will be discussing the eastern part of Syria.”
Importantly, Russia and Turkey have completely different visions and different objectives regarding the northeastern part of Syria, controlled by the US-backed Kurdish formations, he said. “Russia is advocating that these areas should come under control of the Assad regime and is promoting a deal between the Assad regime and Syrian Kurds. On the other hand, Ankara is demanding some form of Turkish control along the border with Syria, although the extent and form of this control is still being debated. But it is clear for Turkey that this control should be in line with its security goals vis-à-vis PYD, SDF or Syrian Kurds in general. So there is a mismatch on many levels.”
But even though these relations are competitive rather than cooperative, this may be the reason that made Russian-Turkish cooperation quite necessary. “The fact that Turkey was the main backer of the opposition and Russia was the main international patron of the Syrian regime is what is giving meaning to this process,” Dalay said. “The Astana process would not have started without Russia, but it would not have gained international legitimacy without Turkey, which brought in the Syrian opposition. In this regard, the strategic incompatibility between Turkey and Russia is both an issue and something that motivates them to engage each other more. When you have competing visions, interests and alliance structure, it makes your engagement on various issues much more meaningful than it would have been otherwise,” he concluded.